Oklahoma at Extreme Risk for Wildfires

August 3, 2011

Oklahomans had better update their fire insurance policies, if the news from state forester George Geissler is accurate. He says that the heat and drought currently holding the state hostage could create a wildfire crises there for the rest of the summer. He added that both the western rangeland and eastern wooded hills are dangerously dry, and that a significant amount of rain is needed to break the drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the eastern third of Oklahoma is in a “severe” drought, except for regions far to the northeast and southeast, where the rating of the drought is merely “moderate,” but central Oklahoma’s drought is considered “extreme,” and western Oklahoma has a drought rating of exceptional, as in “exceptionally bad.”

Unfortunately, there is no rain likely to fall on the parched state. Rick Smith, a National Weather Service meteorologist said, “We’re not seeing any hopeful signs for relief anywhere in the near future.”

Geissler elaborated on the situation, explaining that over 150,000 acres of Oklahoma have already been burned by wildfires this year, and that the state is now at moisture levels that are so low that they’ve reached, “…that critical tipping point when a small spark can start a fire.”

While Oklahoma summers aren’t usually terribly windy, a normal 10-15 mph south wind could cause a fire to burn with a lot of intensity, Geissler explained. He added that firefighters across the state are prepared for the worst possible conditions, and said that the state forestry service has planes that can drop water, as well as helicopters that the Oklahoma National Guard will make available, if needed.

The state also has federal forest service aid available. A plane from Abilene, TX recently flew to the Wichita Mountains in just over half an hour to help with firefighting efforts there, Geissler said.

He added, however, that the public needs to be incredibly cautious in order to prevent fires, emphasizing, “As long as people keep in mind that if they do anything that involves a spark — grilling to cook, mowing and hitting a rock, whatever it is — they should be very cautious of their surroundings.”